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The Tower of Babel: Genesis 11.1-9 (ESV)


In Genesis 11, The Tower of Babel is a fascinating story.  It was a fun story to tell for the original audience and it is easy to remember.  Parents memorized it and told it to their children.  This is the only story we have that explains why we have so many languages and cultures.  When a child asks why someone is different and speaks another language this story answers their question.  This story also helps us understand why our world is the way it is.  There’s also another meaning in this story that gets to the heart of why we are here.  It’s about what God has for us, God’s purpose in our lives.  We are a people who like to plan.  We do things like building a tower too.  Just last week I spent an hour in Lowe’s looking at lumber thinking about something I’m never going to build!  It was still fun to think and plan.   God made us this way.  We like to plan.  Are all these dreams and plans we have God’s plans for us?   

God gives us a foundation for success.

All we need to do is what God has called us to do.  As we go through this story see if you can see God speaking into your life.  How’d we get where we are?  Let’s read verses 1-2:

                    1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 

They’ve come off the ark and they have a new opportunity to fill the earth.  There’s a foundation for great success!  They speak a common language and even use the same words for things.  If you can communicate you’re already ahead of the game.  Today we have already used different languages in our worship time as Elizabeth led us in Spanish.  Mrs. Smith pointed out that there are over 6500 languages in the world in our children’s message.  We know that sometimes words don’t always mean the same thing.    Years ago a children’s minister I worked with began leading the welcome and greeting time in our worship services.  She’d say something like, “Guys, let’s greet one another.”  A few older ladies came to me with concerns that when she asked people to greet one another she was excluding the women because she said, ‘guys.’  To the children’s minister, ‘guys’ meant everyone.  We have regional meanings for words, for example, if you ask for a glass of tea in the north you’re going to get unsweet tea.  If you ask for tea in the south it will be sweetened.    You’re asking for ‘tea’ but it doesn’t mean the same thing.  These people in this passage hadn’t experienced this because their words had the same meanings and they were able to communicate well. 

In verse two they have settled into the flatlands.  The ark settled in the mountains.  The people have come down to the flatlands where it’s easier to farm and build.  Think about your life.  God has given you all that you need to be successful.  How has God blessed us and given us what we need?   In verse 2 it says they traveled ‘east.’  For people who were hearing this story, traveling east was an indicator that something wasn’t right.  This is a signal that they are traveling away from God.  Adam and Eve traveled east when they left the Garden of Eden.  When Jacob stole his brother’s birthright he went east.  When Jacob is restored he went west. 

We can give our lives to work that makes little difference.

This thought concerns me and sometimes even keeps me up at night.  We can spend our whole lives doing something that makes little difference. 

                    3And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.

This verse has a clue to the early audience that heard this.  Bricks and mortar are used.  Bricks were baked in an oven, like pottery and they were put together with something like asphalt.  They only had crude oil, not refineries, but they dried it in the sun and stuck the bricks together.  An Israelite hearing this would have laughed at this way of building, thinking this was a dumb way that won’t last.  The Israelites built with stone and mortar.  It was a much superior form of construction.  They were doomed from the beginning.  The people building the tower had this idea that they could actually build this.  The Israelites hearing the story are thinking the opposite!  It’s so easy to look at someone else and see a dumb plan.  It’s harder to see it in ourselves.

 4Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 

The plan is to make bricks together and to build a city and make a name for themselves.  They have great minds and are working together by putting their resources together.  What will we do with our lives?  What do we spend our days doing?  What’s our mark on the world?  Their plan is doomed from the beginning.  They’ve missed the heart of God.  They have two reasons for building the tower.  One is to stay together.  In Genesis 1 Adam and Eve are told by God to be fruitful and multiply, to populate the earth.  God’s plan is for the earth to be filled with people.  Then again in Genesis 9 God repeats this same plan to Noah.  Two chapters later, people are bunching up together and their plan is to stay together.  The second reason they had for building the tower was to make a name for themselves. They wanted to build a world where they were self-sustaining and didn’t need God.  We can do this too without even realizing it.  We can lose the heart of God for our lives, for our family, for our income, and for our future.  We forget about God’s will and God’s purpose for our lives.  Ultimately, that’s the major problem here.  Sometimes it is ok to waste time like when we’re at the beach building sand castles.  Everyone already knows the sandcastle will be gone the next day.  The danger is that we can spend our whole lives doing this.  God has given us great dreams, gifts and abilities.  We can miss the heart of God.  What’s funny is that they think they are building a tower up to God but in verse five God has to come down to them.

God loves us too much to let us waste our lives.
 
                    6And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 

What’s this mean?  God is not their rival.  God is for us and wants us to do well.  God wants our lives to matter.  God says they are wasting their lives.  No matter how high they go they will not make it to Heaven.  Their whole lives will be pointless.  God wants to help them understand.  God wants to restore their sense of purpose so God intervenes.  God confuses their language.  It’s a miraculous event.  The question here isn’t how did God so this, but why.  There’s a time for God to intervene in our lives.  When God knows we have lost our way, God intervenes out of His grace.  Some words kids say get an automatic intervention from their parents.  For example when the house is quiet parents go to check on what’s happening.  If a child asks, “I wonder what will happen if I put this in the microwave?”  Mom will come quickly asking, “What are you doing?” to prevent disastrous results.  God loves you too much to allow you to waste your life.

God restores purpose to our lives through new opportunities.

                    8So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 

God will reorient their lives.  It seems like God introduces great chaos.  Why does God disrupt them?  They were wasting their lives.  Sometimes we don’t understand and we need to rediscover why we’re here.  Sometimes disruption is painful.  Acts 1:8 says, 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

This is why you’re still here. God changes us and we are to be witnesses.  God promises He is with us forever.  Our purpose is to tell others what God has done.  People were piling into Jerusalem and they couldn’t even take care of all the widows.  Saul was persecuting the church and the believers in Jerusalem were leaving to go to safer places.  They were bunching together.  Why is God allowing persecution to happen?  God has a plan and a purpose that’s bigger than us.  It’s not just about us all being happy.  We waste our lives doing things that will never bring us comfort and joy.  There’s nothing more important than knowing Jesus Christ.  Your faith and understanding of how much God loves you, nothing is more important than giving our lives to God.  This is what we were made for.  Your life will not make sense until you understand this.  We can pour our lives and energy into things that don’t matter.  God is still asking us if we know why we’re here.  God has a tremendous plan for our lives.  What are the plans God has spoken over your life?  God, reveal to us Your purpose for us.  May we give our lives to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is simple but difficult at the same time.  Lord, help us to know we are following You. 

Sermon Notes are taken, transcribed and posted by Jeni Martin Johnson.

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